‘Homes have stood the test of time’: Rock Island walking tour highlights mid-century neighborhood | Local News

Pete and Marion Lardner were five years into their married life when they decided to build a home in a rolling, wooded, tucked-away neighborhood of Rock Island that some developers passed up as too challenging.

Little did they think in 1959 that the house would become their “forever” home.

But that’s what happened as the two embarked on their long life together, Pete rising to the presidency and chairmanship of Bituminous Insurance Cos., Rock Island, Marion teaching kindergarten and the two together parenting five children. Pete died in 2007, but Marion continues to live in the red house with board-and-batten siding that they built 63 years ago.

The Lardner home is one of 21 in the Oak Hills Subdivision that will be featured from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday (Mother’s Day), May 8, during a guided walking tour sponsored by the Rock Island Preservation Society. (The neighborhood is off 30th Street at 29th Avenue.)

Participants won’t be able to go inside the homes, but by walking and listening to the guides (or studying a booklet that comes with the free tour), they’ll gain an appreciation for one of the city’s “hidden treasures” — an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood — and its mid-century modern homes.

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Of the 21, eight are “Scholz Homes,” referring to semi-pre-fabricated homes built by the Scholz company in Toledo, Ohio. Another eight “likely, probably or possibly” came from the Scholz factory, where panelized parts would be loaded onto specially designed flatbed trucks and taken to a home site where a minimal amount of cutting and fitting would be required for construction.

Styles ranged from ranch and split level to traditional. Common features were strong horizontal lines, diamond-paned casement windows and exterior walls with half-height brick veneer. In 2000, Builder magazine named Scholz one of the 20th century’s most influential figures in the residential building.

Not even Diane Oestreich, longtime member of the preservation society, knew of the neighborhood — or of Scholz Homes — until recently.

She was tipped off when Ted Lardner, one of Pete and Marion’s sons, called her about a home in his old neighborhood that he had heard was listed as one of Rock Island’s “100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures,” and he wondered what that meant.

The home he was referring to is a Scholz Home built in a classic, L-shaped, ground-hugging ranch style with several distinguishing features. Among them are that the garage is built perpendicular to the house so the façade at first glance appears to be all-house; the garage features a gable with clerestory windows (meaning they are near the top of the wall); and there is an ornamental front wall built of masonry “breeze blocks” that provides a decorative way to ensure privacy.

The home was designated as “unprotected” in 2009 by the city’s preservation commission, meaning commission members regard the home as having historic architecture — particularly the clerestory windows and breeze block wall — worthy of landmark status.

When a home is “landmarked” by the city, the owner is required to preserve historic features and a public review would be triggered if the owner wanted to change the exterior or possibly even demolish the structure. The list is a way the commission tries to protect the city’s important buildings.

‘National Register potential’

Once Oestreich got digging into the neighborhood’s history, she and other preservation society members decided they had the makings of a walking tour.

They want people to see the various styles of homes — “they don’t look like cookie cutters,” Oestreich, secretary of the preservation society, said. “We think it’s a very special neighborhood that people need to know about. I think it has National Register potential.”

By that she means the neighborhood could be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, maintained by the U.S. Park Service, because of its architectural significance because it is cohesive and because the homes haven’t been altered or changed much since they were built, maintaining their mid-century integrity.

“What’s nice is that these homes have stood the test of time, especially from the front,” she said.

The Lardner house, for example, has a large addition in the back that includes an expanded kitchen, sunroom and enlarged deck, but that is not visible from the front.

In researching the neighborhood and Scholz Homes, preservation society members received help from members of the Moline Preservation Society, who provided a 1966 Scholz catalog showing interiors and plans; the South Rock Island Township Assessor, who dug up building and construction information; the city of Rock Island; a source for historic and contemporary maps; and the Lardner family.

Oak Hills was developed by John Strieter and Richard Motz, who thought the rolling acreage, surrounded on three sides by streams and steep ravines with a hill in the middle, could be a premier neighborhood.

With Charles Motz and Raymond Walker, they purchased the site off 30th Street and began development, with the first plans submitted to the city’s planning commission in 1958. The subdivision included part of 29th Avenue and what is known as 32nd Street Court, according to the preservation society.

“The area became very popular among young professional families,” Oestreich and Jaan Sturgis, write in the booklet accompanying the walk. “Lots quickly sold, typically in the $4,000 to $7,000 range. Houses were built at a reported cost of $17,000 to $26,000,” according to assessment records.

Of the 21 homes in Oak Hills, 19 were built between 1958 and 1963, with another around 1969 and the last in 1989.

Two were designed by local architects.

Neighborhood was ‘children’s delight’

For Scholz Homes, site preparation, including a basement, was the responsibility of the builder. Plumbing and electrical systems were included by the company and the homes could be customized with, for example, different-sized windows and additional bathrooms. The company would even decorate and furnish the home.

“Those who spent their youth — or who raised children — in Oak Hills recall it as a children’s delight,” the booklet states. “The large round bases of the courts were the site of playing and games. The ravines and their meandering streams provided a natural education as well as entertainment.”

The Scholz company was founded in 1946 by Donald J. Scholz (1920-1999), who recognized the demand for post-World War II houses.

In addition to Ohio, Scholz factories were located in Long Beach, Calif.; Long Island, N.Y.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Durham, N.C.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Houston, Texas.

The company remained in business until 1970 when Scholz sold it to Inland Steel. (For more information, go to ncmodernist.org/scholz)